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THEATRE REVIEW: ‘Tis Pity She’s a Whore/ Liverpool Everyman

Philip Key is treated to incest and a bloodbath

Published on September 27th 2010.


THEATRE REVIEW: ‘Tis Pity She’s a Whore/ Liverpool Everyman
WHORE: That’s the word, hinting that this is a play not aimed at the kiddie trade.

John Ford wrote it back in 1633 and it has remained pretty controversial ever since, despite now being granted classic status.

The lovers, Annabella and Giovanni, played by Matti Houghton and Hugh Skinner, seem to show surprise at their own actions rather than genuine passion.

The controversy centres on a theme that remains a taboo one, incest. On top of that there is murder, eye-gouging, burning, poisoning, stabbing and a heart being ripped from a body.

How different, as they say, from the home life of our own dear Queen.

The Everyman version is pretty clean-cut until the first unexpected garrotting late into the plot, and ends with a virtual bloodbath. The Kensington Gore must have been ordered by the bucket load.

Director Chris Meads has taken his scissors to the script and snipped out at least one murder and plot line leaving matters fairly fast-moving, perhaps too fast for some (in the interval I had to explain some of the story detail to a confused audience member. “Who was that woman?” she asked).

The 12-strong cast, however, deliver their lines with emphasis on the story rather than attempt to deal with the passages of verse, a reasonable plan as this production is played in modern dress with smart suits, polo necks and sensible frocks. The clergy, of course, wear clerical garb that could come from any age.

The set, designed by Ashley Sharp with assistance from Nina Patel-Grainger (both with connections to the Liverpool Institute for the Performing Arts) is an impressive a wrap-around, with a deep well in the centre, rather like a sunken bath, that serves as a bedroom and ultimately a murder room.

It is on the bed that brother and sister, Giovanni and Annabella, consummate their secret love. He has returned home to declare his love for her which she quickly reciprocates, despite dire warnings from the local friar but with the encouragement of Annabella’s tutor, Putana.

Things get difficult when Annabella gets pregnant and even more so when she marries her suitor Soranzo. When the incest is discovered, matters turn violent.

The villain of the piece is none of these, but Vasquez, servant to Soranzo, beautifully played by Ken Bradshaw with an Irish accent and wonderfully slimy. He it is who starts

the murder spree with a spot of poisoning and follows it up with increasing forms of violence.

The lovers, Annabella and Giovanni, played by Matti Houghton and Hugh Skinner, seem to show surprise at their own actions rather than genuine passion. They do kiss and cuddle but the chemistry is often lacking.

Rather more fervent is Nicholas Shaw’s would-be lover, Soranzo. Shaw works himself into a fair old lather particularly when he finds his wife is not the virgin he expected.

I found Kevin Harvey’s delivery as Friar Bonaventura rather strange, a sort of declamatory scouse which belied his awful warnings of hellfire.

Rather more to my taste was Eileen O’Brien who brought a much-needed humour to the role of Annabella’s tutor, Putana. In what is at best a turgid tale, her asides and witty comments were amusingly performed and brightened the mood no end. It’s just a pity that her character had to suffer what in many ways was the worst fate of all, being garrotted, blinded and finally led off to be burnt at the stake. Oh yes, Mr Ford had great fun with this lot.

As happens with many a stage show these days, there was an accompanying music score but, for once, this was not an intrusive one. It came from Heather Fenoughty whose minimal musical meanderings underpinned various plot points and brought out the dramatic ones with some impressive drums.

The production, incidentally, is part of the theatre’s Unbound season which will soon see the same cast members plus others undertake seven short plays “inspired by” ‘Tis Pity in and around the theatre under the title “Anthology”.

That will be in cooperation with the innovative Slung Low company, of which composer Heather Fenoughty is a member, and a lot of input from LIPA which also contributed to ‘Tis Pity.

It’s all part of the Everyman’s celebration of its theatre which some time next year is expected to close, be demolished and later reopen with a new design.

It is worth noting that many cast members in ‘Tis Pity have returned to the Everyman after some years including, Stuart Richman (who takes a small role as a cardinal), who was there on opening night in 1964.

‘Tis Pity is a show which sums up the Everyman, a bold choice of play, a different way of presenting it, not without its faults, a community feel in casting and production and designed to get people talking.

7/10

*’Tis Pity She's A Whore runs at the Everyman until October 30 but will alternate with Anthology on certain nights.

Pictures: Sam Heath

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EvilEddSeptember 23rd 2010.

Mr Key should also be commended for asking someone on the other side of the aisle to switch of their mobile phone. It may have been on silent, but the light from the screen was an unwelcome intrusion.

TwatterSeptember 23rd 2010.

Mobile phones should be thrown into a big bin on the way in and then you take your chances on the way out. That's my idea of social networking. Think how it could work...

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